“It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma (multinational community of Muslim believers) to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible! That thinking – I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’ – that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!Sisi realizes that the specter of Islamism will not be diminished by political action or suppression – including by Egypt’s own forces. Ideology must be matched by ideology; a different Islam needs to be preached and taught in tens of thousands of mosques and madrassas – including the small ones, not just the large ones that welcome camera crews.
“Is it possible that 1.6 billion [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants – that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible! … I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands.”
Why did the West completely ignore what should have been a welcome call for a religious revolution? No doubt many have reservations – as they should – about someone whose rise to power was hardly an exercise in Jeffersonian democracy.
But they miss the point. More significant than the speaker’s identity was what he understood about the receptivity of his audience. Sisi believed that the imams would “get it.” He felt that enough citizens in the oldest and most populous state in the Muslim Middle East care about what the rest of the world thinks, and are unhappy that their faith is generally reviled and detested. Islam could change its image, but only after a reconstruction – a revolution, as Sisi called it – that would have to come from the clergy.